campus news

WiSE celebrates 10 years of supporting women in STEM

Group photo of the 1st WiSE cohort.

The first WiSE cohort. Over the past 10 years, the program has supported hundreds of students with the goal of improving the recruitment, retention and success of women in STEM fields.


Published April 8, 2024

Sarah Baillie.
“WiSE provides a support network and understanding that other women are your teammates and not your competition, which helps us develop successful and resilient students and STEM professionals. ”
Sarah Baillie, program director
Women in Science and Engineering

In the summer of 2014, Parveen Attai was a month away from beginning her first year as a UB student when she received an email inviting her to move to campus early and join a group called Women in Science and Engineering (WiSE).

Attai was excited for the opportunity to receive a system of support before she even stepped foot on campus to start her dual major in biomedical sciences and psychology. She was among the first cohort of students to participate in WiSE.

After moving into her dorm, Attai enjoyed two days of student panels, icebreakers, tours and fun experiments, such as an egg drop. Even after participating in WiSE for four years, she says the opportunity to meet other young women in STEM fields through early move-in has remained her favorite WiSE activity.

Today, WiSE supports hundreds of students like Attai each year with the continued goal of improving the recruitment, retention and success of women in STEM fields. Over the past decade, WiSE has expanded in both resources and the number of impactful programs that it offers. A collaboration between the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and the College of Arts and Sciences, WiSE provides workshops, events and lectures; student ambassador and mentorship programs; and networking opportunities for students to connect with peers, alumni and employers.

“WiSE aims to support the whole student by offering a variety of programming, such as interview workshops led by industry professionals, salary negotiation practice sessions with the Career Design Center, wellness discussions with counselors about topics like burnout and self-care, and speaker panels where guests like UB alumni share their experiences and help demystify what STEM careers can look like,” says Sarah Baillie, WiSE program director.

“WiSE provides a support network and understanding that other women are your teammates and not your competition, which helps us develop successful and resilient students and STEM professionals.”

The early move-in program has grown to include things like field trips around Buffalo and a scavenger hunt on UB’s North Campus.

Students talk at the WiSE early move-in program.

Students talk at the 2023 WiSE early move-in program.

Ten years of growth

In 2008, Jessica Poulin, now an award-winning teaching professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, joined the UB faculty and wanted to see a dedicated program for women in STEM, noting that from her own experience she thought it was critical to have system of support for both students and faculty.

Poulin was connected with Liesl Folks, then-dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), who also wanted to create a program that would increase the support for women in engineering and science majors at UB. WiSE was launched just in time for Attai’s freshman year, with $50,000 in seed funding from the President’s Circle fund.

The program expanded further after receiving sponsorship support from industrial gases and engineering company Linde, as well as scholarship aid for students through the Gersky Family Fund and the Arnold family.

Poulin remains involved with WiSE, aiming to share her honest insight into her experience as a biologist and her transition from research to teaching with students. She also works with students on case studies that explore topics such as imposter syndrome and bias.

“WiSE has grown incredibly in the past 10 years,” Poulin says. “It started with a group of very dedicated faculty and staff, along with a part-time admin person. Now, there is a full-time director, designated spots on campus and an increase in participation from faculty, students and even outside agencies. It is a testament to how much common need and enthusiasm there is for this and also great support from the university.”

Since 2014, the percentage of women enrolled in SEAS has risen by 36%, in part through the work of programs such as WiSE.

“WiSE has established itself as a robust program that facilitates building meaningful connections between female students majoring in STEM disciplines, contributes to their professional success and connects them to alumni and other professionals,” says Marina Blanton, faculty director of WiSE and associate professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering. “WiSE also contributes to student leadership development and, by means of outreach programs, nurtures role models for future students to look up to.”

Women working in a lab.

Students make dice during the 2023 WiSE machine shop takeover. 

Ten years of impact

Having started college during the pandemic, Jasmine Epps, a biomedical engineering senior, did not come to campus until her sophomore year in 2021. Looking for organizations to get involved with, Epps came across the WiSE Instagram account and set a goal to attend two events. After taking a particularly stressful exam, she saw that WiSE was hosting a de-stress coloring event that seemed like the perfect opportunity to start her goal.

Through simple conversations over a couple of coloring pages, Epps learned more about opportunities in SEAS, discussed the gender disparities she had been experiencing in her classes and met one of her closest friends.

“It was really comforting to meet other women in STEM. I knew the numbers, but now I was living the numbers,” Epps says, noting that in her first in-person lab, only two out of the 35 students were female.

“WiSE gives us a space to meet and chat with people doing the same things,” explains Epps, also a WiSE student ambassador and outreach mentor. In addition to a sense of community, she also notes that networking can be one of the most significant pathways to success.

Through conversations at WiSE events, Epps has made friends and learned more about opportunities and career paths through the graduate program in engineering education that she will begin after graduating in May. She even received an internship offer while speaking with a UB alum at a WiSE brunch.  

Attai remained involved in WiSE throughout her four years as an undergraduate, serving in various positions, such as an orientation and early move-in leader, student tutor and mentor, and chair of the WiSE Education Advocacy Committee.

She also started the WiSE Instagram account that still inform students like Epps about the program and its activities.

Attai went on to receive her master’s degree in public health and is currently enrolled in medical school at UB. She is thinking about pursuing a specialty in ophthalmology.  

“Being in medicine, you should have a pretty strong belief that you have what it takes to be a leader,” Attai says. “Solidifying those thoughts early on through my participation in WiSE has helped contribute to being where I am today.”

Attai advises women entering STEM careers to dream big and not let a lack of representation deter them from pursuing their passion.

“If you want to be a female leader right now in 2024 in a field that is not representing you, you can be the person who changes that, so aim high,” she says.